Always look on the bright side of life, sang the Monty Python team 30 years ago. On his way to Chelsea Football Club's Stamford Bridge stadium, a friend visiting from Paris heard the game was sold out. Pressing on regardless, he found his bright side. A spectator approached to offer a spare seat in his private box, telling my pal, who was smartly dressed: "You look the sort of chap we wouldn't mind having with us."
On my own way to Stamford Bridge, I was blissfully unaware that my team, Sunderland, would concede seven goals and narrowly avoid conceding more. However, I sensed a difficult afternoon lay ahead and caught myself humming the Python song under my breath. And even my day brightened a little. For a few minutes, taking refuge from torrential rain, I was the passenger in the black cab of a proud man of 84 who claims to be London's longest serving taxi driver, though not quite the oldest. "One chap is older," he said, "but he started a lot later."
Walter Levy has been plying his trade for 62 years. How a man who has spent so long negotiating London traffic can remain so cheerful escapes me, but Walter was the friendliest and chirpiest cabbie I had encountered in a long time. He told me his wife, a retired nurse of 74, would also be at the game. Her match day experiences are grander than mine since she pays £2,000 (Dh11,850) a year for a season ticket that entitles her to VIP treatment, including a gourmet meal. "They look after her like royalty," Walter said. "She is disabled and is allowed to be dropped off right at the main entrance; no one else except Roman Abramovich (Chelsea's owner) has that privilege."
My journey was not long enough for Walter to share any of the priceless anecdotes he must have collected in a career that began three years after the end of the Second World War. But he did have time to confess to an allegiance to an even less successful football team than mine. As a product of the East End of London, he followed in his father's footsteps to become a lifelong supporter of Leyton Orient, a modest club occupying a position - when I last looked - 61 places below Chelsea (and 49 below even Sunderland).
It was easy to see why Walter's wife, Colette, might prefer the glamour of Chelsea. But could it be that since she is of French and Russian parentage, she also feels affinity with a team owned by a Russian and containing such star Frenchmen as Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda? Not so, if her husband is as correct as he is indiscreet: "I think she likes the Chelsea players' legs." Chance meetings such as mine with Walter may not have been precisely what Monty Python had in mind with their refrain. But the fresh memory of our fleeting conversation provided some relief from the trauma of seeing all those goals fly in.